Nordic Ski Season ~ Uncompahgre National Forest
Doing a grand tour loop through the San Juan Mountains of Colorado is a nice scenic drive during the winter season. The scenic loop tour follows Colorado Highway 145 from Delores to Telluride, which is quite a posh ski resort community. From Telluride, State Road 62 goes to Ridgway, where the Million Dollar Highway heads south toward where the journey began. This long loop through the San Juan Mountains is a complete circle that takes a few hours to drive and the roads pass through two vast National Forests. The mountain scenery along this loop is breathtaking during the warm weather seasons and during winter the snow drapes the slopes with bright white color, which is as picturesque as can be!
Last year (2017-2018) was a lousy snow season in the San Juan Mountains because of severe draught. This year’s snow pack seems to be back to normal and plenty of winter sports enthusiasts have certainly been heading up the mountain every weekend. Finding good packed snow during the early winter season can be dicy. The rule of thumb is a good snow pack can be usually be found above the 9,000 foot elevation up in the mountains during the first few weeks of winter, while the lower elevations may still be hit or miss. During the peak of winter in this region, every elevation is usually more than knee deep in snow, so during January and February it is easy to get the winter sports act on!
As I found out while recently doing scenic drive loop, the winter sports conditions in the western end of the San Juan Mountains look promising this season and there are already a few spots where the snow pack is here to stay. Personally, I tend to pay more attention to areas that promote cross country skiing and snow shoe hiking, because these winter sports activities have a minimal environmental impact when compared to big ski resorts. Cross country skiers and snowshoe hikers will be happy to know that the trails are ready to be blazed up in the Uncompahgre National Forest just south of Telluride. As can be seen in the photos, the Nordic Trails in this area are not overcrowded and there is plenty of room to roam.
For those who are thinking about stopping by Telluride when touring the San Juan Mountains, I have been to Telluride three times and all three times there was not one single available parking space to be found anywhere close to downtown. Infrastructural planning seems to not be a high priority as far as the parking situation goes in some mountain tourism destinations, which is not surprising because many of these towns are located in narrow canyons that do not have any extra real estate to spare. Those who plan to visit the historic community of Telluride this winter season should be sure to pack plenty of patience in the travel baggage and be sure to inquire as to whether a parking space is reserved with the motel room.
The Uncompahgre National Forest can be looked upon as being the gateway to the Canyonlands of Utah from the San Juan Mountains. In this vast wilderness area, a dramatic change in the landscape can be seen when heading west from Telluride. Destinations along Highway 145 in this neck of the woods rarely get as much attention as spots along the Million Dollar Highway on the other side of the mountains, so a visitor will find more room to breathe freely. For those who have been thinking about doing an early winter scenic drive to see snow capped mountain landscapes, the trip up Highway 145 is the perfect choice, especially since there are currently many road closures on the Million Dollar Highway near Ouray. For those who long for doing some cross country skiing in a picturesque wilderness area, the public Nordic Trails in the Uncompahgre National Forest near Telluride are waiting for you!